Paleo Hebrew decorate image

I take the first step into this blog post with a bit of trepidation. I intend to broach a subject that Hebrew teachers generally avoid, given its controversial nature. In fact, one of Krashen’s hypotheses about the Natural Approach to second-language acquisition is that language teachers must do what they can to lower the “affective filter” (pp. 37–39), which would block students from connecting emotionally with the language and would discourage them from taking independent strides toward putting themselves into positions for receiving comprehensible input and discovering optimal input materials for themselves. It is my hope that I won’t be putting up any blocks for those who sincerely wish to find their way into acquiring and learning Hebrew in whatever form.

I do, however, feel compelled to offer a voice against some of the wild things that are becoming so popular on the internet and are contrary to everything scientific and evidentiary. There are two odd theories in particular: Edenics, the theory that all world languages have descended from Hebrew in some way; and, some popular idea that words in Hebrew derive their “real meaning” from meanings given to their composite letters. I will not confront Edenics at this time, but those interested may read these two answers on the Linguistics subsection of Stack Exchange (here and here) to receive great responses on Edenics. I want to offer some direction to those who are convinced by the second theory.

Continue reading “Hebrew Pictographic Meanings?”

Jonathan has been teaching a course in advanced biblical Hebrew recently, in which he is using two textbooks: (1) Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar; and, (2) Jacob Weingreen’s Classical Hebrew Composition.

In this video, I go through the whole of Text III from Weingreen’s textbook and explain why I render it the way that I do in biblical Hebrew. This complements what I wrote up about one of the verses from Text II on The Learners Forum (see here specifically).

Let me know what you think and if you enjoy this.

As you might be aware, Jonathan has been writing a series about the word order of the biblical Hebrew verbal sentence. The significance of that series and what he is arguing might be lost, however. Therefore, I wanted to write a short entry to let you know why I have become a recent convert to Cook and Holmstedt’s proposal for the re-examination of the standard or “unmarked” word order in biblical Hebrew.

Anyone who learned Hebrew through the standard channels will generally tell you that the normal word order in Hebrew is verb-subject-object (VSO). That is, the verb appears first, then the subject, and then whatever other information (the object, adverbs, etc.). Take, for example, the following quote from the popular introductory grammar The Basics of Biblical Hebrew by Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt (133 [§12.14]):

In Hebrew, however, normal word order for a verbal sentence is verb-subject-object as the following example illustrates.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

In this example, the verb is in first position (בָּרָא), the subject in second position (אֱלֹהִים) and the two objects follow the subject (הַשָּׁמַיִם and הָאָרֶץ).

This is wholly incorrect for a few reasons, but you cannot blame these authors for making such a statement when even Gesenius, the most famous of biblical Hebrew grammarians, has the following to say (Kautzsch, 456 [§142f]):

According to what has been remarked above, under a, the natural order of words within the verbal sentence is: Verb—Subject, or Verb—Subject—Object. But as in the noun clause (§141l) so also in the verbal-clause, a variation of the usual order of words frequently occurs when any member of the sentence is to be specifically emphasized by priority of position.

So, why has this topic occupied so much of Jonathan’s thoughts here on the blog of The Hebrew Café? Why does any of this matter for students of biblical Hebrew? And, how can we know for sure that the information on word order presented in these grammars is so incorrect?

Continue reading “A Recent Convert”

Stone Chumash Cover

The second chapter of the book of Exodus overflows with textual oddities. By chance, Jonathan asked me to read it with him last night, and so we sat down on Zoom and read through it, stopping every once in a while to comment on some textual quirk that leapt off the page. I thought it would be worthwhile to write some of these down and get some feedback, if anyone else is interested. I’ll break it up by verses and comment where I think the text is less than clear. These really are just impressions that I get from the text. I haven’t checked any commentaries at this point beyond that of the Stone Chumash. They may have some great explanations that I haven’t come across yet.

Continue reading “The Strangeness of Exodus 2”

I first began my study of the Hebrew language as a second-year student at OCC with Dr. Larry Pechawer. I studied under him for two years, during which we did a full year of grammar using C. L. Seow’s A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew  and then a full year of translation, starting with the Joseph story with Professor Yerushalmi’s The Story of Joseph (Genesis 37; 39-47) and then moving on to direct translation of the book of Hosea and several other portions of the Hebrew Bible. We also translated the Siloam Inscription (Hezekiah’s inscription on the water tunnel in Jerusalem) and the Mesha Stele in the ancient Hebrew script (עברית קדומה).

Image of the Siloam Inscription by King Hezekiah
Siloam Inscription

I would say that I had a great introduction to the Hebrew language as it occurs in the Bible and in extra-biblical inscriptions within my first two years of Hebrew study. However, if you had asked me to communicate in Hebrew at that point, I would not have gotten too far. I could read the Bible and understand what I was reading, so long as the text had nikkud. There was also a copy of the Babylonian Talmud in the college library that I tried to read. The text was unpointed, however, and I had a difficult time of it. In many ways, then, the courses that I took at OCC prepared me for what their purpose was: to give me the tools to read the Bible in its original language. I am more than grateful to Dr. Pechawer for the hours that he invested in my education and in providing me with a better way of viewing the texts of the Bible.

Continue reading “My Hebrew Journey”

I know that we tend to focus on the biblical language here. This is because we’re busy leading courses in reading the Bible. I wanted to make sure to get a bit of modern Hebrew into the August archives of the blog.

A bit about books, bookstores, libraries, and places to read.

סֵ֫פֶר     book (pl: סְפָרִים)
סוֹפֵר     writer, author (pl: סוֹפְרִים)
סִפְרִיָּה (ספרייה)     bookcase, library (pl: סִפְרִיּוֹת)
חֲנוּת סְפָרִים     bookstore (pl: חֲנוּיוֹת סְפָרִים)
בֵּית קָפֶה     coffee house, café (pl: בָּֽתֵּי קָפֶה)
מְעַנְיֵן (מעניין)     interesting (pl: מְעַנְיְנִים (מעניינים))
שִׂיחָה     conversations (pl: שִׂיחוֹת)

Continue reading “And now for some modern Hebrew”

As we enter the final chapter of the book of Jonah in our HE102 course, we encounter this verse:

Jonah 4:1
וַיֵּ֥רַע אֶל־יוֹנָ֖ה רָעָ֣ה גְדוֹלָ֑ה וַיִּ֖חַר לֽוֹ׃

It should remind us of something that we read in Ruth:

Ruth 1:21
לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וְיהוה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י {הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי}
Why would you call me Naomi (“pleasant”) when Yhvh has testified against me and Shaddai has {done evil to me} / {afflicted me} / {caused me distress}?

Even though these verbs look so similar, the one in Jonah is in the qal and the one in Ruth is in the hiphil. If you’re uncertain of a parsing, you can look it up in Davidson’s Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon by removing the vav prefix and searching alphabetically (see here). They both come from the root רע״ע. Let’s compare the parsing of four relevant forms that all come from this root.

Continue reading “Jonah 4:1 – Doing Good and Bad in Colloquial Hebrew”

The end of our Beginning Biblical Hebrew II course (HE102) is upon us. The last part of the textbook deals with weak verbs of various kinds. The chapter titles from Learning Biblical Hebrew: Reading for Comprehension are as follows:

Chapter 25: III-Waw/Yod Verbs
Chapter 26: I-Waw/Yod Verbs
Chapter 27: II-Waw/Yod Verbs: Introduction
Chapter 28: II-Waw/Yod Verbs: Niphal–Hophal Stems
Chapter 29: Geminate Verbs
Chapter 30: I-Nun Verbs
Chapter 31: I-Guttural Verbs
Chapter 32: II-Guttural Verbs
Chapter 33: III-Guttural and III-Aleph Verbs

Since I actually enjoy weak verbs, we’ve covered most of these in principle throughout the course. I’ve decided that we’re going to combine these final chapters to reduce the time spent on them. The principles related in these chapters have been discussed at many points in this course. For example, the fact that I-Nun roots will display assimilation of the nun when it ends up against another root letter without an intervening vowel. This is how נָפַל ‘he fell’ follows the normal imperfect pattern, but that the nun assimilates, unlike in the normal strong verb.

Continue reading “Finishing Up Beginning Biblical Hebrew II”

Dr. Stephen Krashen (whom I’ve mentioned in this blog before in connection to free voluntary reading) has convincingly argued again and again in favor of the success achieved in second-language acquisition by the use of comprehensible input for the conveyance of messages between speakers. In December of last year, he published a talk on his website called Optimal Input, in which he talks about the parameters of quality input for the purpose of acquiring a second language, and these are extremely useful for those who are learning Hebrew. This is what he had to say about how language input can be optimized (Krashen, 2019, pg. 1–2):

  1. It is comprehensible. This does not mean that every detail is comprehensible: Input can be quite comprehensible even if there is some “noise” in the input, some incomprehensible bits. This includes unknown vocabulary and grammar rules that have not yet been acquired but are not important for comprehension. In other words, language acquisition does not require that you understand every word and every part of every word, but language acquirers should understand most of it.
  2. Optimal input is very interesting, or “compelling.” Compelling input is so interesting you temporarily forget that it is in another language. If input is comprehensible and compelling, acquirers will often not notice the noise in the input.
  3. Quality: Optimal input is rich in language that contributes to the message and flow of the story or text. The language included in the input also gives the reader support in understanding and therefore acquiring new aspects of language. It is not necessary to make sure that certain grammar and vocabulary are used: Rich input automatically includes new, unacquired language that acquirers are ready for (i+1).
  4. Quantity: It takes a great deal of comprehensible compelling rich input to achieve competence. Optimal input is therefore abundant, which will provide more opportunities for acquisition of new language.

Continue reading “Finding Comprehensible Input in Modern Hebrew”

When it comes to categorizing and labeling Hebrew verbs, we can do so in several ways. First, we can look at what general patterns (“stems” or בִּנְיָנִים) the verb appears. This is similar to Latin’s verb conjugations, by which nouns are categorized by the forms they take in the infinitive (whether -āre, -ēre, -ere, or -īre). In Hebrew, roots may appear generally in seven stems, though there are a few outliers here and there in peculiar stems as well, and we can label verbs as “qal” or “piel” or “hiphil” (or whatever stem they appear in by their nature).

Another common way to group Hebrew verbs is by the gutturals or vowel letters that they contain and the position in which they are found in the root.

The guttural letters are ʾalef (א), heh (ה), ḥet (ח), and ʿayin (ע). Resh (ר) is sometimes included in the list because it behaves similarly to them. The vowel letters (know in Latin as matres lectionis) are heh (ה), vav (ו), and yod (י). Notice that heh is both a guttural and a mater lectionis (sg. of matres lectionis). Since nun (נ) tends to assimilate into other letters, many roots with nun are also considered weak, depending on its position in the word. When these letters appear in a root, they mess up the normal pattern, and those mess-ups are predictable and regular.

Continue reading “Doubly Weak and Proud of It!”